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Gear Review - Schecter Hellcat VI

I'd started saving for my Hellcat VI a month or two ago... but free international shipping and a 10% off Father's Day sale prompted me to place my order from ProGuitarShop about $300 earlier than intended. Even after Customs taxes (<$30, much less than anticipated), it was less than the USD standard price, and took about 1.5wk to arrive.

When I unboxed it, the G string was off the saddle, probably a flaw in the autostringing system at the factory or something, no big deal; and there are a couple small blemishes in the finish next to the output jack, but nothing normally noticeable... I won't worry about it.

Specs wrote:

Schecter Hellcat VI features:

* BODY: Alder
* NECK: Maple
* SCALE: 30 (tuned one octave below standard E)
* FRETS: 22 Medium
* PICKUPS: Duncan Designed MH-102
* ELECTRONICS: Vol/Tone(tap)/5-Way Switch
* BRIDGE: TonePros System w/ Custom Brass Saddles
* TUNERS: Grover
* HARDWARE: Chrome
* COLOR: 3-Tone Sunburst (3TSB)

First thoughts, it's lighter than expected, given the alder/maple construction. It's certainly lighter than my Jaguar and even lighter than my basswood Jazz Bass. Even though lightweight, it feels very solid; construction quality feels pretty good. It was basically set up out of the box, but the E and A strings had buzz on the lower frets; I've done a little setup work on it and it's basically gone, but not perfect. I haven't tested intonation, but to my ears it's sounding ok as is. I'll probably make sure next time I change strings. The volume pot feels pretty solid, but the tone pot feels a little dinky; I'm not sure if this is related to the specific pot used here, or is a standard feeling of push/pull pot designs. Either way, it's not a big deal.

After spending several hours in the past day and a half playing around with the bass, testing the pickups and feel, I'm pretty happy with the Hellcat VI. It's not as smooth/nice feeling as my Jazz Bass, Jaguar or Telecaster, but feels pretty nice in its own right, and was also cheaper than any of those instruments. The three coil-tappable humbuckers (each humbucker is made of two pickups wired together, coil tap lets you use a single pickup in each humbucker) offer a fair degree of tonal variation, from plunky country tones to full, rich rock tones, and those delightfully spacey post punk/new wave/goth tones heard from the Cure, Joy Division and the like. I'm primarily playing with a pick with this instrument, though finger-style works well, using a guitar finger-picking technique; top-down bass fingering technique is possible, but not super comfortable, given the narrow string spacing and low action. The medium bass frets make the fretboard much smoother feeling than the narrow/tall frets on my Aerodyne Jazz Bass, but the glossy poly finish on the back of the neck doesn't feel quite as nice.

Single notes play great across the strings and neck, but chording sounds best on the higher strings and frets. Chords on the E and A strings in the 0-5 fret area is, like with most basses, a little muddy, but it can work, particularly if you use 2-string chords, as you would with a standard bass. The bridge pickup and the #2 position (bridge and middle) will maintain a certain amount of chord clarity in the bassier positions.
Played as a bass, I'm not really noticing any problems with bassiness, though it's not great for that classic finger-picked sound. With the tone rolled off on the neck pickup, however, you can get some fairly P-bassy sounds with a bit of growl, and the #4 position (Neck and Middle) tapped is deep and smooth. With the tone rolled up, it nails some of Robert Hook of Joy Division's growly lead bass tones in the #2, middle and #4 positions. I haven't tried to match up with Jack Bruce's early Cream stuff he played on Fender VI, but I'm sure it would get them just fine.
I've had great results playing as a baritone, matching some of the deep surf/spy tones used by Jet Harris, or the nice deep lead in the Teen Titans theme song. Going for more traditional baritone sounds, I could basically match up to Greg MacPherson's Danelectro baritone on songs like Visitor. Chording with these tones (and higher on the neck) just sounds gorgeous, ringing with depth and just sounding pretty.

I've mostly played clean through my 1972 Twin Reverb, with some reverb goin, but I have tested it with chorus (Boss BEB-3) and overdrive (Fulltone DP-1) and it pairs up to the effects pretty nicely. The chorus makes it spacey and atmospheric, perfect for the Fender VI parts in Cure songs from Disintegration, etc. and it just growls with overdrive. Overdrive matches really nicely with the bridge pickup; plenty of aggression and articulation.

This is my first instrument with a Tune-O-Matic style bridge and it does seem pretty solid. The brass saddles are really nice, and the string grooves are nice and deep, holding the string stable; won't be any issues with stings popping out of the saddle, like on the Jaguar (with light strings). I'm not a fan of the fact that the saddles are in a fixed radius, without individual string height adjustment (like on every other bridge I use); to raise the action on the E and A strings, I had to raise the entire bridge rather than just the two saddles.

As with all my instruments, I replaced the strap buttons with chrome Schaller
strap locks
, but the preinstalled buttons seemed decent, with wide flanges.
The headstock is designed with a standard 13deg angle for string tension and energy transfer, without the need of string trees (Fenders tend to use flat headstocks). This design, used by Gibson and many others is good, but has a tendency to break at the joint if dropped or otherwise abused. The head joint on the Hellcat VI starts about 4cm back on the neck, rather than at the head itself. I assume this is supposed to increase joint strength?

Here it is in my livingroom Smile

All in all, this is a solid bass for the price; in this style instrument, it's hard to find anything with this quality below the $1000 mark. The hard-tail design is solid, but I think I would appreciate the floating tremolo system of the Fender VI if it were available (just gives me a reason to save for one one day Wink ). The Hellcat VI is a versatile instrument, offering up a lot of playing options. If you have an interest in a VI style instrument, this is probably the way to go.
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